This post is by Bram Wayman SY '09, the winner of the 2008 Fenno Heath Award for the composition of a new Yale song. His piece, "Through Eden," was premiered this past Friday at the Yale/Princeton Glee Club Concert.
Composing, rehearsing, and performing "Through Eden" has been a fulfilling musical experience for me. I'm often happiest when the music I'm writing is rooted in something personally compelling, and "Through Eden" is no exception. The text I used, an excerpt from the traditional Commencement speech by Dean (now Provost) Salovey, has always struck me, especially at last year's Commencement, when I knew I would be next. The feeling I got from that text was the sense of incredulous wonder that I figure I'll feel when I take my last look at Yale, and the rush of empowerment from knowing I'm a part of it all.
This overwhelming sentiment was a far cry from the nuts and bolts of the composition itself, which I wanted to structure around two things: the flow of the text and the general building of intensity from beginning to end. The text was a challenge. It's a long passage, and it's all complex prose, so it needed to be set to a few consistent motives to keep the music concise. The first cornerstone of "Through Eden," then, was those intervallic and rhythmic motives that reoccur throughout entire piece and bind its sections together. They came from speaking the text over and over, working out the melodic contours of inflection and then assigning them to pitches.
Once I knew the structure of the piece from these recurring threads, it was easy to create the overall build from beginning to end by way of a harmonic and textural journey. The first section presents the polyphonic nature of the piece without too much harmonic adventuring. The second section, set off by an unrelated key area and a much more homophonic texture, gave me somewhere to come back from for the third section, where the original polyphony and key return, but soon multiply into a dense cascade of lines and shifting tonal areas. That makes the strong ending feel all the more cathartic.
One of the tenets I hold to when composing is that music should be enjoyable from the performer's point of view. This never means it has to be conservative, but rather that it has to be something the performer can engage in. Being a singer, I was able to write passages (in all four parts -- I hope!) that get singers fired up. When people want to perform your music, usually the challenges presented by it are surmountable, and I think that's part of why we've been able to learn "Through Eden" so well in such a short period of time.
Thank you all for all the amazing feedback you've given me on this piece (gold star to John Good, who told me he thinks I "dumped a bucket of accidentals on the score"), and for your hard work and dedication! I can't wait to hear how "Through Eden" grows in the months ahead.